‘Big fruit and nut’ funding nutritional studies

We all know the basics about eating well – eat a wide range of foods, most of them fruits and vegetables, and stay away from the ultra-processed foods that taste way too good.

But it seems like every week there’s a new study showing how walnuts, apples, cheese or dukkha could help some aspect of your life (and not just make a great cheese board).

This happens so much that there’s a running joke in the Cosmos office about nutritional studies. Whenever someone pitches a story where a particular food type is shown to have a positive nutritional effect on humans, the line rings out: ‘check for Big Food!’

More often than not, these studies will have been funded by a group with a vested interest in the food – the California Prune Board for instance.

That’s not to say that these studies are automatically bad science. Many of the studies have fail safes in place to ensure that the boards funding the study are not also influencing the outcome.

Readers also have to look at how big the study was; whether it had control groups and blind trials and  whether it was peer reviewed.

So, it’s always worth checking who funded the study and what’s behind it, just so you know. Here’s Cosmos Magazine’s favourite ‘Big’ studies over the past 12 months. 

Big Almond

‘Weight loss? ‘Nuting’ to worry about with almonds’ reads the headline to the press release.

For nine months, 106 participants undertook a weight loss plan, but half had 15% of their energy intake made up of unsalted whole almonds with skins, while the other half had 15% carbohydrate-rich snacks, such as rice crackers.

Both groups lost weight, and the almond diet showed ‘greater improvements in some lipoprotein subfractions’.

The funding body? The Almond Board of California.

Big Strawberry

In November this year it was strawberries’ turn to shine, finding that it could help limit dementia risk and depression. Research gave 30 middle-aged, overweight participants either a freeze-dried strawberry powder, or a control powder that looked and tasted the same, but had no polyphenol – a type of plant compound. 

After 12-weeks, those who had strawberry powder made fewer ‘intrusion errors’ during a word list learning task – for example remembering/repeating words not included in the learning task. They also reported lower levels of depressive symptoms.

The funder? The California Strawberry Commission.

Big Vegan Cats

This one is a bit our of left field, but stick with me. A study in September looked at cats on vegan diet, using survey data to discover that those who fed their pets vegan diets report healthier outcomes.

The results, published in PLOS One, weren’t statistically significant, but the researchers noted that this was the biggest study of its kind.

The study’s funder though was organisation Proveg International, which aims to replace 50% of animal products globally with plant-based and cultivated foods by 2040.

Big Walnut

The California Walnut Commission has had a big year.

Three different studies funded by them have reached across the gamut of nutrition science. One found that walnuts are good for your heart because of gut bacteria. Another found that walnuts could help adolescents’ cognitive development and contribute to their psychological maturation. The third found that just one ounce of walnut to the typical American diet could improve their diet substantially.

Big Prunes

Finally, the most recent study we’re including is about dried plums – better known as prunes. The study, published in The Journal of Nutrition earlier this month showed that daily consumption of prunes reduced inflammation cytokines. The researchers suggest this could help counter bone loss in postmenopausal women.

The funder? You guessed it, The California Prune Board.

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